Not Saussure

September 3, 2006

MPs demand action against rising abuse, harassment and even violence

Filed under: Community, Politics, UK — notsaussure @ 11:51 am

Observer, September 3:

A group of prominent MPs, alarmed at the rise of anti-semitism in Britain, will accuse some left-wing activists and Muslim extremists this week of using criticism of Israel as ‘a pretext’ for spreading hatred against British Jews.

The charge is made in a hard-hitting report – by MPs from all three major political parties – which will be unveiled at a Downing Street meeting with Tony Blair on Thursday.

The report is published in the wake of an alarming increase in verbal harassment, abusive emails and letters, and even violent assaults on British Jews. The number of incidents that took place in July, which came in the middle of escalating violence in the Middle East, was the third highest on record.

And good for the MPs, of course. However, this report raises a couple of questions.
First, why the Jews particularly? Presumably we deplore ‘verbal harassment, abusive emails and letters, and even violent assaults’ directed against any group. Well, I can certainly think of another religious minority group that’s come in for a fair bit of stick in the UK — figuratively and literally — over the last few years; indeed, I’m pretty sure it’s far safer and more comfortable to be a British Jew than it is to be a British Muslim at the moment.

Why no fuss about the way ordinary British Muslims are getting hammered? Can anyone doubt that some right-wing activists and other extremists this week use criticism of terrorists as ‘a pretext’ for spreading hatred against British Muslims? To borrow the report’s phraseology further into the article, can anyone doubt that, while we must emphasise the right of people to criticise or protest against Islamic terrorists’ actions, we should deplore the way rage over their actions has sometimes ‘provided a pretext’ for anti-Muslim or anti-Pakistani or anti-Bangladeshi sentiment?

Note that I’m not saying the one makes the other all right; all I ask is why, since we presumably deplore violence and prejudice direct against any group, the MPs are so concerned about violence against a particular group.

Note, too, that answers on the lines of ‘But it’s Muslims who’re responsible for bombs on the tube’ isn’t much of an excuse, since British Muslims in general are no more responsible for the actions of suicide bombers than are British Jews responsible for the actions of the Israeli government.

Nor is ‘But many British Muslims support or are sympathetic to Islamic extremists’ much use. Many British Jews support the Israeli government, but what of it? Since we’re agreed, I hope, that no matter how angry someone might feel — rightly or wrongly — about the plight of the Palestinians or the bombing of Lebanon, he still can’t engage in verbal abuse of, or physical attacks upon, people whom he knows, or thinks he knows, disagree with him, then it has to follow he’s got no more right to take out his rage against terrorists inspired by Islamic fundamentalism upon people he suspects might sympathise with it.

And what is to be done about this? Apparently, among other things, the report

recommends greater security support for the community, which spends millions of pounds on fencing, CCTV cameras and other measures to safeguard synagogues, schools and other communal institutions. ‘It is not right for any group of British citizens to dig into their own pocket because they feel there is not adequate protection for their right to express themselves religiously or culturally,’ [Former Europe Minister Denis] MacShane said.

So are the the MPs also going to ask us to shell out for enhanced security for Mosques, which tend to get firebombed? Or, perhaps, they’re thought to be under sufficient survellance already.

Update:  Sunny, at The Sharpener, is thinking on the same lines.

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